'French Hannibal Lecter' tells how he killed man, ate lung

23rd June 2010, Comments 0 comments

A prisoner told a French court Wednesday that a sexual urge drove him to kill his cellmate -- and that "curiosity" about the taste of human flesh led him to cook and eat the lung he ripped out of the corpse.

Nicolas Cocaign, dubbed the "French Hannibal Lecter" by international media covering his murder trial in the northern city of Rouen, gave the court a blow by blow account of how and why he killed Thierry Baudry.

He said he flew into an "uncontrollable" rage after his victim gave him a "dirty look" on January 2, 2007 after he ordered him to wash his hands after going to the toilet in the cell they shared with a third inmate in Rouen.

"I had a sexual urge, an adrenaline rush," Cocaign, whose face is tattooed with bloody tears and a skull, told the court on the third day of a trial whose verdict was due Thursday.

He said that after pummelling his victim, he took a pair of scissors and plunged it into his back, neck and chest a dozen times before holding a plastic bag over his head "for five minutes" to make sure he was dead.

Then, in an act that has sparked the comparisons with the fictional cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter, he decided to eat Baudry's heart for his evening meal.

"I take a razor blade and I open his chest. I plunge my hand in and I take out what I think is the heart but which in fact is a piece of lung, which I put into a Tupperware container," he told a transfixed courtroom.

Cocaign, who was in jail for armed robbery and was awaiting trial for attempted rape at the time, said he proceeded to eat part of the lung raw before frying the rest with onions on a camping stove and dining on the dish.

"I did it out of curiosity to see what it was like to eat human flesh," said Cocaign, whose trial has put France's troubled and overcrowded prison system under fresh scrutiny.

He told the court on Monday that he had a long history of mental problems and that the murder might have been avoided if prison authorities had not ignored his repeated appeals for psychological help.

"No one was listening to me," the detainee said. "I made several appeals for help, saying I was a man capable of being dangerous. I took action, and then they took me seriously."

Cocaign, whose victim's mutilated body was not discovered by prison warders until the day after his death, stressed his troubled background and mental instability in his testimony.

Born in 1971, he was abandoned by his 21-year-old homeless mother and cared for by the state until he was adopted aged three. From the age of six he was already under the care of a psychologist.

Reports from his childhood suggest he had difficulty telling right from wrong and his mental difficulties worsened when he was allegedly raped, aged 13. After this he developed "violent sexual compulsions."

He was convicted of drug possession at age 22 and was later hospitalised on several occasions with mental illness. He complained to the court that he was not given drug treatment after release, despite asking for it.

"My compulsions were still there, so..." he said.

Mental health experts have been asked to testify as to whether Cocaign was sufficiently sane to be responsible for his acts.

With one of the highest suicide rates in Europe, French prisons are regularly criticised by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights for failing to provide basic needs.

The Rouen court heard findings from a report into a string of "failures" at the jail in the city where Cocaign was behind bars at the time of the killing.

© 2010 AFP

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